Given the immense popularity of Disneyland following its debut in 1955, it was inevitable that other parks would soon swoop in and try to emulate its success. A host of other theme parks were quickly built, but most soon fell into bankruptcy (as you can find out in this recent article).
Still, that didn't stop theme parks from trying to copy the Disney formula. It wasn't always necessary to try to copy an entire park, though. In fact, it was much easier simply to rip-off Disney's best rides, and indeed many familiar-looking attractions have sprung up at rival theme parks all over the world over the past few decades.
Disney, of course, is no stranger to "borrowing" ideas from rivals - Epcot's The Living Seas pavilion was an attempt to compete with SeaWorld Orlando, for example. And Splash Mountain bears more than a passing resemblance to the Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott's Berry Farm. But it's fair to say that the company's rides are more frequently copied by others than vice-versa.
Let's take a look at 10 rides that are clearly knock-offs of Disney theme park attractions.
10. Runaway Train (Chessington World of Adventures, UK)
When Chessington World of Adventures opened in 1987, it became arguably the first "true" theme park in the UK. The idea of a park featuring heavily-themed zones had been imported to the UK by John Wardley in conjunction with the Tussauds Group - and Wardley would go on to become something of a legend, developing rides such as Nemesis and Oblivion at Alton Towers.
Wardley was hugely impressed by Disney's theme parks. He had even gone so far as to develop his own version of the audio-animatronics technology that featured in Disney's rides - a technology that was quickly snapped up by Tussauds for the next generation of its waxwork museums in London.
Although he had a clear vision for Chessington, Wardley didn't have a lot of money to work with. One of his favorite rides was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, and he wanted to bring a similar experience to the UK. In the end, he bought an off-the-shelf, completely uncustomised mine train roller coaster from German firm Mack. He then designed a mountainous facade to sit on top of it. The effect was so impressive that even the owner of Mack was convinced that Wardley's working model of the attraction was based on a custom design, and not one of the firm's standard models.
Despite Wardley admitting quite openly that the Runaway Train was a knock-off of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, it proved to be a very popular ride in its own right. It was replaced in 2014 by an updated version, Scorpion Express. Much of the original scenery is gone, but some impressive new effects should revitalize the attraction for some years to come.
9. Matterhorn (Nara Dreamland, Japan)
Opened in 1961, Nara Dreamland was a blatant rip-off of Disneyland, complete with its own versions of Main Street, U.S.A., Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Matterhorn and the Skyway.
As with the rest of the park, the Matterhorn resembled Disney's original creation (which opened in 1959 at Disneyland), but didn't look quite right. In fact, the mountain was just a little too angular to really be convincing. It did offer a familiar experience though, with a bobsled-style coaster train being lifted to the top and the spiralling down the mountain's exterior. Despite its unoriginal nature, Theme Park Review's Robb Alvey reports that Nara Dreamland's Matterhorn, which opened in 1961, was "actually pretty damn good".
Sadly, this is one Disney clone that is no more. Nara Dreamland was abandoned in 2006.
8. Pirate Adventure (Drayton Manor, UK)
Pirate Adventure is an indoor boat ride past scenes of static and animated life-size pirate models. Sound familiar? Yep - this is a clone of the original Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland.
While it’s hardly on a par with the ride that inspired it, Pirate Adventure is still one of the stronger dark rides at the UK’s theme parks. The lack of movement from many of the pirate models is a little disappointing (particularly for those used to Disney’s high-tech animatronics), but the scenery is nicely done and the indoor location and lengthy ride time is welcome on hot summer days.
7. Soar'in in the Sky (Shijingshan Amusement Park, China)
The banner that once hung over the entrance to Shijingshan Amusement Park was a fitting one. It read: "Disney is Too Far, Please Come To Beijing Shijingshan Amusement Park". Operated by the local government and opened in 1986, it was one of the most blatant rip-offs of Disney's parks ever to see the light of day. It even went as far as hosting its own versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, although it didn't restrict itself to ripping off Disney (Shrek and Bugs Bunny were on-hand to meet-and-greet guests, too).
With the announcement of Shanghai Disneyland, Disney turned up the legal pressure and the walkabout characters are now gone. You can still find an "evil twin" of the Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle though, which trades in white and blue spires for tan and red ones. And then there's the unmistakable "giant golf ball" shape of Epcot's Spaceship Earth.
The best thing about the Spaceship Earth knock-off is that it houses another clone of a Disney attraction - this time, Epcot's Soarin'. Soar'in in the Sky (note the clever repositioning of the apostrophe) features ride vehicles that are ostensibly similar to the hang-glider style Soarin' gondolas, and a movie that includes several scenes that are inspired by Disney's version - including shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, skiers, an aircraft carrier and fireworks exploding.
6. Universum der Energy (Europa Park, Germany)
Europa Park isn't exactly known for copying other theme parks. In fact, most of its attractions were developed by Mack Rides, which also owns and operates the park. Universum der Energy, though, may look a little familiar to Epcot visitors. Yes - this "edutainment" attraction attempts to explain where energy comes from, in the context of a dark ride populated by animatronic dinosaurs.
It's clearly inspired by the Universe of Energy Pavilion at Epcot, and its headline ride (now known as Ellen's Energy Adventure). In fairness to its creators, they didn't exactly hold back on the animatronics, which are enormous and fearsome-looking
5. Alice Ride (Blackpool Pleasure Beach, UK)
If any park has a right to rip-off Disney creations, it's Blackpool Pleasure Beach. The park's classic River Caves ride, for example, pre-dates Pirates of the Caribbean and is often held up as one of the inspirations for Disney's classic boat ride.
It's only fair, then, that Disney returned the favor by allowing its long-time partner Arrow Development to build the Alice Ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach under license. It opened three years after Disneyland's own Alice in Wonderland ride, and was built on a fraction of the budget (around £50,000).
The Alice Ride is a dark ride through scenes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Guests are seated in Cheshire Cat-themed carriages, some of which contain models of characters from the books. The interior scenes are lit up by ultraviolet lights, resulting in vividly colourful settings. They are populated by animatronic recreations of popular characters from the books, such as the White Rabbit and, of course, Alice herself.
While it's not a par with Disney’s own Alice in Wonderland ride (it has an unmistakeably cheesy “British seaside” feel to it), the Alic Ride is still better than most family dark rides in the UK. Kids will enjoy the colourful scenes, and even all-adult groups will find the psychedelic theming amusing.
4. Eurosat (Europa Park, Germany)
Here's another ride that manages to rip-off two Disney attractions in one. And, once again, one of those two attractions is Epcot's Spaceship Earth. Eurosat is housed inside a geodesic sphere that is undeniably similar to the landmark at Walt Disney World's second theme park.
The ride itself is an indoor roller coaster themed around space travel, similar in style to Space Mountain. However, it features longer trains (with 8 cars per train), as well as a spiral lift hill. A techno soundtrack accompanies riders on the coaster, which was built by Europa Park's owner Mack Rides.
The ride experience falls somewhere in-between the "wild-mouse"-style Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions of the ride, and Disneyland Paris' more intense take on the concept.
3. It's a Small World (Suzhou Amusement Land, China)
One of the most-copied Disney rides of all time is It's a Small World, which took the New York's World Fair by storm in 1964 and has since been installed at Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. Perhaps the most intruiging and hilarious copycat is this one at Suzhou Amusement Land in China.
As usual, the amazing folks over at Theme Park Review have tracked down the ride and caught it on video. Our favorite features? The zombie-like dolls and the soundtrack, which somehow manages to be even creepier than the Disney original.
2. Global Village (Everland, South Korea)
It sounds like a rip-off of Epcot's World Showcase, but in fact Global Village is another It's a Small World clone. Being housed at one of South Korea's top theme parks, Everland, it is however a much better attempt than the Chinese versions.
The official description of the ride could almost have been lifted straight from a Disneyland guidebook: "Take a journey to the world in a small boat! An exhibition of dolls dressed in folk clothes from 18 countries around the world welcomes you with songs. Enjoy the distinct features and atmosphere of each country and lively facial expressions and gestures of countless dolls."
1. The Black Hole (Alton Towers, UK)
Alton Towers marketed 1984's new addition, The Black Hole, as the UK's equivalent of Space Mountain at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, which it would resemble both in its space travel theme and its enclosed location. The reality was somewhat less spectacular. Disney’s Space Mountain had been a custom "wild mouse"-style coaster packed with high-tech special effects, built at a cost of $15-20 million in 1975. The Black Hole, meanwhile, was an off-the-shelf Jet Star II model designed by Anton Schwarzkopf, identical to existing coasters at several other parks (the first was built in 1974).
The trains were pulled up a spiralling lift hill towards a model of a spaceman, before plunging down the 27 foot first drop. They then raced through a series of short drops, tight corners and helices before hitting the final brake run. What would have been a relatively tame roller coaster mutated in the pitch black surroundings to become something much more menacing, with guests unable to anticipate the twists and turns. The only lighting came from the few stars and nebulae that comprised the “special effects”.